Days 2 and 3

Yesterday we removed our horses’ nose bands and dropped the bits in our horses’ mouths. Then we forsook our hunter-clean, triple-stitched leather halters with the brass name plates for rope halters knotted to rope leads with leather thingamajigs at the ends. We used these thingamajigs to snap at and against our horses as they walked circles around us and up and down the arena.

Today we climbed on the walls of the indoor and waved purple and red and yellow flags around our horses to make them sidle up to the wall. Then we slung a leg over the saddle and, on horseback, chased a log wrapped with a plastic bag.

We are definitely not in Hunter Land anymore.

We are in Melanie Smith Taylor- land, a place were horses look to their humans for safety and do our bidding with obedience and exuberance. You get to this world not with artificial aids such as ear plugs and Pessoa rigs, but through a series of what seems at first to be baffling ground work exercises. To my surprise, it’s these exercises that have been the most interesting and fun part of the clinic so far.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I didn’t post yesterday because I was too tired to take a shower let alone ask my brain to string together a cohesive sentence. And I wanted to give the clinic another day before writing about it. It’s a bit like having a date with that dreamy guy, the one you’ve been fantasizing about for months. You go out with him and suddenly you notice his ears are a little too big or — if you’re less superficial — his wit isn’t as keen as you would like. I built up this clinic in my mind so that nothing short of a clinic with God (who could grant me longer legs and more courage) could live up to my expectations. Plus, at $1,500, this is a major budget-buster for me, meaning it will be quite a while before I can afford to show again. So even more pressure.

Day one started with the riding test and I swore I was going to get my mare over the scary oxer without having a pro on her first. This is my major goal for this clinic. At the horse shows, my trainer jumps her around the course first in another division because she can be looky. Then I get on for the next course. I want to be able to ride my horse the first time.

The riding test was success, I got her over it. Yay! Too bad I wouldn’t be so successful the second day.

After the test, we gathered in the indoor arena for an overview of what the various clincians would be covering. Mike Bushkol, whom I would later see to be an immensely talented chiropractor talked about how the horses’ spines gets twisted. If we want them to perform better than they would in nature, we have to learn to untwist the spine through manipulation, better riding and good shoeing. At least that’s what I think his point was. The sound system was barking back and his talk was at times, beyond my understanding. That said, the points I could get yesterday became much clearer today when he worked on each of our horses.

Next up was Mindy Bower, a gifted horsewoman who could make your horse clean your house if you so desired. I’ve not done much ground work, I didn’t even remember the right way to tie a rope halter. So I was completely lost later when our group met with Mindy and she told us to make the horse walk in circles around us, but with intricate front and back leg footwork that I couldn’t understand. I, like the woman whose horse was next to mine, was almost in tears. Lucky for both of us, two of Mindy’s kindly helpers saw our distress and worked with us until we got it. It was challenging, but by the end, my horse was walking around me and mostly turning correctly with very little pressure.

Day One of the TaylorMade clinic ended for our group with a flat lesson by Melanie Smith Taylor. We did lengthening and shortening exercises through poles on the ground. Melanie’s approach is to make the easy exercises difficult (walking and trotting over poles) so the difficult exercises become easy (jumping a course). We also worked on precision. Exactly four steps a walk, followed by four steps at a canter, back to four steps at a walk, to halt. same for backing and the start of turning on the haunches. Take one step back, she said, then one step to the left, thereby moving the haunches to the right.

We ate dinner, cleaned tack, then back to the hotel for an early bedtime so we could get back to the barn at 6:30 the next morning.

I’ve just finished Day Two, and you know what? That dream date’s ears aren’t looking so big and he’s kind of witty. First up was a ride with Melanie. I was not wearing my big girl panties and didn’t march up to the first scary fence which I’m even more embarrassed to admit was the same ugly birch oxer I got her over the day before. But at least I wasn’t the only one with a refusal. Melanie worked with me till I got it right. She had me use my stick if my mare didn’t pick up the canter right away, then pop her on the shoulder before I got to the fence.
And guess what? She went over with a Yes Ma’am!

The jumping exercises were challenging for us all. The last one was trot in, csnter a short five strides to a bounce, back to a trot over the next fence.

Excellent session. Though sound system problems ate up about 20 minutes which was frustrating.

The rest of the day just kept getting better. Mike, the Chiro, worked with our horses and taught us how to help them. Then we worked with Mindy, as we stood on the wall and waved flags around our horses and later chased a log. My looky mare was so nervous/excited she started urinating when she first saw it, but eventually she was chasing it like a cow horse, or as close as she will ever come to being a cow horse. I would have liked to work on that more and understand the ultimate goal, which was something about controlling their feet in a specific way. Unfortunately, Mindy’s assistant was taken away to work on something else, so Mindy didn’t have the time to explain it fully. From what I was later told by by in an earlier session, the point of chasing the log was to free up up the horses movement and allow them to round naturally without rein or leg aids.

The best part of that session was I learned what to do when she snorts and gets scared of things. And if I learn nothing else, it will be worth it.

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About jodyjaffe

Author of the Nattie Gold equine mystery series which was featured in People Magazine and translated into a variety of languages I can't read. Co-author of "Shenandoah Summer," and "Thief of Words." As a journalist, I was on the team that won the Pulitzer Prize for the PTL scandal in which I profiled Jessica Hahn.
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